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Seasonal Fingerstyle Books

"Christmas Carols for Solo Guitar"
Glenn Weiser, 1996 CENTERSTREAM Publishing

Christmas Carols book coverChristmas time is a time for celebration and music making.  So it never fails that as a fingerstyle player, you are asked to play a christmas tune or two for family and friends, or as part of a performance.  So it's almost a requirement that every fingerstyle player have a tune or two in his/her repertoire to fill these requests. 

If you find yourself in need of some Christmas material to round out your repertoire, this is a book to seriously consider.  Glenn has put together 21 intermediate arrangements of some of the more well known Christmas tunes (see the tunes list below).  All these arrangements, like most of Glenn's work, are in standard tuning or dropped D (50%).   I've always liked the dropped D tuning myself because that low D root note adds such a great quality to a piece.  These dropped D arrangements are no exception  That low D adds a special depth to the music; which makes these christmas tunes sound great and fun to play. 

Order a copy directly from Glenn

Reference & Instructional Books

"Mastering Fingerstyle Guitar"
Book/CD, 95 pages, 78 example tracks
Steve Eckels, National Guitar Workshop, Alfred Publishing

While there are a number of fingerstyle instruction books around, you can probably count on one finger all the graduated series that have been done specifically for fingerstyle guitar.  This review is for the 3rd book in the "The Complete Fingerstyle Guitar Method" series by the National Guitar Workshop. The series consists of Beginning, Intermediate, and Mastering, and all are offered in book/CD, book only, and CD only.  While I can't speak personally about the first two books in the series, I can offer my opinions on this particular one in hopes it will provide some indication about the quality of the others.

This book can best be described as a book of exercises of advanced fingerstyle techniques.  The first two chapters cover some of the basics like rest strokes, free strokes, and finger control exercises to develop stronger right and left hand control.  Chapter 3 presents a series of exercises on chord voicings and using them to create interesting chord movement (I assume to help in composing and  arranging).  Chapter 4 & 5 goes into fingerstyle techniques and fingerstyle speed development that can only be categorized as advanced.  As with all these exercises, the CD is invaluable in being able to hear what the author wants you to do.

A major emphasis of this book (20 pages) is dedicated to the modern fingerstyle techniques of left and right-hand tapping like that of Michael Hedges and Preston Reed.  The tapping techniques in Chapter 6 contains some 20 exercises of various techniques; all of course with CD tracks to illustrate the techniques.

There is also a chapter dedicated to Alternate Tunings; although you should note that the alternate tunings covered are not any of the common "Open" tunings normally used.  Steve presents tunings like Lydian Tuning and Mixolydian Tuning.  So if you are use to the more common tunings, these will take you out of your element and suggest some new tuning possibilities you may not have encountered before.  All of these tunings are simply defined and then followed with a single example piece of music which all utilize many of the tapping techniques presented earlier.  There is no attempt to provide scales, chords or fretboard patterns (but Steve does offer a fingerboard template at the end to allow you to create your own).

The last chapter covers arranging and composing and goes through 6 different arranging ideas that are illustrated using the tune "Scarborough Fair".  I found this chapter particularly useful because it used the same melody, and that makes it easy to fully appreciate the effect each idea can have.

This book is probably one of the best I've seen for developing the more advanced and modern fingerstyle techniques in use today.  It also provides a lot of great ideas on how to use those techniques to create modern arrangements and compositions.  

"The Blues Fake Book"
Woody Mann, 1995 Oak Publications.

If you're new to Fake Books, these are books which contain melody lines, chords, and lyrics to tunes.   These books are created for those who either wish to create their own arrangements or just need the chords to allow them to construct simple accompaniments to the songs.

This book was recommended to me by Mike Dowling as one of the best sources for lead sheets to the old Delta blues music.  With over 200 blues songs from the 20's to the present, it represents one of the best collections of these tunes I've seen.   For me, just to have the full lyrics for some of these tunes is a big help because many of the blues books and videos on the market don't give you that information.  But also, I like to create my own arrangements and this is just what is needed to do that.

So if you get out your "Book of 101 Blues Licks" and start applying them to the tunes in this book, you'll have your repertoire filled out in no time.

"The Complete Book Of Alternate Tunings"
Mark Hanson, 1995 Music Sales Corp.

This book is by far the most comprehensive reference book on the subject of alternate tunings that I have found.  There are chapters on 17 of the most popular guitar tunings, plus many of the derivative tunings that are based on these; resulting in hundreds of possible tunings to explore.  Each contains historical information, charts on how to produce the tuning from standard tuning, a unison and octave tuning chart, scales in keys appropriate to the tuning, numerous chord charts, listings of a variety of tunes and artists that use the tuning, plus "waterfall" effect passages that show you how to imitate the sustained sound of a harp that is so common in Celtic music (these are cool scales!).  

As a reference book, there are no actual transcriptions, only reference material to use as a basis for your own compositional work.  But it's this very information that is priceless for quickly figuring out the "lay of the land" in a new tuning.  It gives you enough meat to start you on your way.

"Scales Over Chords
How to Improvise...And Never Play A Bad Note"

Wilbur Savidge, Randy Lee Vradenburg, 1994 Praxis Music Publications, Inc.

After playing guitar for around 10 years I came to the realization that even though I could play guitar pretty well, I had a problem with improvising around chord progressions when in group jam situations.   Over the years I acquired music theory books that promised to help in this area, but never have I found a book/CD so well done as this one.  It does have its share of music theory but only what's necessary to tie together the relationships between chords and scales. 

The book relies predominantly on fretboard diagrams so that you can visualize the scale patterns...I feel this is the main reason this book is so being able to visualize the patterns on the fretboard makes it much easier to remember them.   But it also offers TAB and standard notation for reference and to present the exercises.  The book includes a CD to demonstrate the exercises as well as complete Rock, Jazz, Blues, and Country songs for practice.   The exercises are in a variety of styles including Rock, Jazz, Blues, Bossa Nova, Cajun, Cha show that this stuff can be applied to ANY type of music.    If you want to improve your improvisational guitar skills, this book is highly recommended.

Beginner's Books

"The Art Of Contemporary Travis Picking
Mark Hanson, 1979 & 1986 Accent On Music
Book/CD, 66 Pages

One of the most common questions I get from visitors to  this web site is a recommendation for a good beginners fingerstyle series.   My criteria for a "good" series is one that focuses on fingerstyle techniques and not on music theory.   The music theory can be obtained from numerous other sources and often only serve to complicate the task at hand; learning to play "Fingerstyle".  

The other factor I think important is that the author select worthwhile music based on the idea that if you are going to spend hours practicing, it'd be real nice if at the end you had something you will want to play; "Mary Had a Little Lamb" doesn't qualify.

Mark Hanson's two book series are the ones I frequently recommend for all the above reasons; his books are focused on fingerstyle techniques and the music is specifically arranged to present the concepts.    Also, at the end of this book, Mark presents his excellent arrangement to "Water Is Wide", "Hesitation Blues" and his composition "Over And Out Rag".  All are very worthy tunes to master, making the process fun.

This book focuses on providing fingerstyle patterns and strategies for accompanying songs.  It's a good beginner book because it gives you a step-by-step way to develop the finger independence crucial to playing in this style.  Each song is selected and arranged to reinforce the concepts presented; as you look through the table of contents below, you'll see that the book is laid out in a concept-example-song format.

The book comes with a CD that presents each and every example and performs each piece.  Together you get all the information you'll need to learn the concepts;  I only wish these book/CDs were available 30 years ago when I was first learning this stuff.

Also be sure to check out the companion beginner video "Fingerstyle Guitar" reviewed on this site.

Buy the Book  from Accent On Music

"The Art Of Solo Fingerpicking
Mark Hanson, 1988 Accent On Music
Book/CD, 66 Pages

After you have gone through Mark's Travis Picking book, you are pretty much ready for the next book in the series.  While the Travis Picking book concentrates on song accompaniment and pattern picking techniques, this book changes focus to solo fingerstyle pieces and offers a great selection of tunes that are not only instructional in nature but also just plain fun to play.  When you've mastered a few of these, you'll have material that you'd be proud to play for anyone;  "White House Blues", "Golden Valley", "Twin Sisters", and "Strawberry Curl" are as fun to play as any fingerstyle tune you'll find. 

Like Mark's Travis Picking book, this one also includes a CD and a detailed breakdown of each piece.  He plays each example and tune at 1/2 speed so that you get maximum opportunity to clearly hear how it should sound   Then at the end of the CD he plays each piece at performance speed to hear them as intended.  

This book covers important fingerstyle topics like Right-hand rolls and the ever critical damping techniques and more (see index below).  And the one thing it doesn't have is a bunch of unnecessary music theory to confuse the main goal; to give you the techniques you need to be a better fingerstyle player.

Mark also provides a number of tunes in alternate tunings to expose you to this very important option for solo guitar.    Tunings such as Dropped D, G6 tuning, DADGAD, and others.  It really is very important to get use to these if you want to play solo fingerstyle these days.

All-in-all this book is well organized and offers great examples to help you expand your fingerstyle skills and build your repertoire as you go.

Also be sure to check out the companion beginner video "Fingerstyle Solo Guitar" reviewed on this site.

Buy the Book  from Accent On Music

Beginners may also want to look at
Richard Gilewitz's Fingerstyle Guitar Selections 

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